Something flips inside you. It’s like a switch going. The system is going down. You start to numb out.
It’s difficult to think clearly. Maybe your hearing goes a bit fuzzy. You feel like you’re here, but also not.
Maybe a moment of conflict with a parent, colleague or partner.
Maybe someone’s behaviour close to you reminds you of time past. Or an image, sound or smell, sets you off.
Maybe you’re suddenly put in the spotlight and you begin to freeze.
Whatever the triggers, they’ll be unique to you.
So what is numbing out?
Numbing out is also known as dissociation. It means becoming temporarily disconnected from your feelings and experiences. Here’s Mind’s explanation:
Dissociation is one way the mind copes with too much stress, such as during a traumatic event.Dissociation is one way the mind copes with too much stress. It's an automatic way of numbing out. Click To Tweet
Dissociation is more common than you think. Actually, most people dissociate in some way, to create distance and disconnection from a distressing situation.
Watching TV for hours, shopping, working loads, eating, sex, drugs, alcohol can all be forms of dissociation.
Dissociating is a very common response to overwhelm, particularly when triggered by trauma.
How numbing out relates to childhood emotional neglect and parental narcissistic abuse
So what’s the connection with narcissistic abuse or emotional neglect?
Dissociation is the brain and body’s coping mechanism for one or more horrendous events that happened in someone’s life.
It can happen in the moment of trauma. And in untreated trauma, it can keep returning, triggered off in many different ways.
However, it’s not just traumatic events that cause dissociation. It can also be a response to more insidious and subtle forms of trauma. Not the obvious ones such as injury, sexual abuse, physical abuse but the less visible sort.
The drip drip of emotional abuse.Dissociation can be a response to more insidious and subtle forms of trauma: the drip drip of emotional abuse. Click To Tweet
If you experienced chilhood emotional neglect or parental narcissistic abuse, the chances are that there was trauma in your life.
When there is persistent, long term emotional and physical abuse, it is often characterised as complex trauma and in severe cases Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD).
Parental narcissistic abuse or emotional neglect can span an entire childhood and beyond. So it’s no surprise that the impact can be traumatic.
Nor is it a surprise that people who’ve had this experience often end up dissociating or numbing as a coping mechanism.
You dissociate as a way of protecting yourself from the pain, threat and overwhelm. It helps you survive the experience.
14 signs you might be numbing out
It can be an enormous moment of truth (and relief) when you realise that you numb or zone out and that this is a perfectly normal way of coping with the impact of abuse and neglect.
If you’re unsure whether you numb out, here are 14 ways that you might be doing it. Some or all may apply to you:
1 You find yourself spending hours on your phone, watching TV or YouTube
2 You eat when you feel stressed or overwhelmed
3 You start to go whoozy or confused under stress
4 You fixate on something to the exclusion of everything else
5 You retreat to bed and can’t summon the will to get up again
6 You read compulsively
7 You act out sexually, eg masturbation or sex or watching porn
8 You zone out so you can’t follow conversations or a TV programme
9 You self harm in some way
10 You get lost in daydreaming
11 You retreat to an imaginary world
12 You have out of body experiences where you feel disconnected from your physical self
13 You shut down so it’s diffficult to communicate with you
14 You ‘lose time’ – so that it’s impossible to account for some blocks of time in your day
Needless to say, these are just examples, and there may be many other ways in which you numb out or dissociate.
There is nothing inherently wrong with dissociating, it’s keeping you safe after all.
But if you dissociate frequently in your adult life and are carrying the legacy of childhood hurts, then maybe it’s the time to look at this. You might feel you aren’t able to be as present as you want.
If that’s the case, dealing with trauma and dissociation might be right for you.There is nothing inherently wrong with dissociating and numbing. It’s keeping you safe after all. Click To Tweet
Is it possible to reduce or eliminate dissociation?
Of course each person is different, but yes it is. There are some effective treatments.
I offer the Rewind Technique to help process traumatic memories. It’s a very gentle, non retraumatising method for quickly getting rid of intrusive trauma memories.
I also work with mindfulness and body awareness to help regulate and soothe when dissociation arises.
The first and most important step of this is creating stability and safety. You need to know that you have complete control of how and when you process your hurts.
How can you manage dissociation by yourself?
Although professional help might be best to support you, there are some things you can do to help you if you numb and want to ground yourself out of it. By the way, ‘grounding’ means bringing yourself back into the present moment.
The naming game
If you feel you are dissociating, you can ground yourself by looking around the space you’re in and starting to name them out loud. Just doing this can bring you back into the present.
Take it step further by naming things by a category (e.g. all the blue things you can see right now.
Pick up an object and really take a moment to feel the texture, weight, temperature, shape of the object. Name these out loud. Compare one object to another (e.g. different types of fruit.)
Or carry a stone in your pocket which you can actively hold and experience in moments of numbing.
Wear an elastic on your wrist and ping it, to bring you into the present moment.
Use your senses
A variation on the exercise above is to check in with you all your senses. Find something you can taste, touch, smell and even listen to. Keeping a pot of herbs is great for this, if you’re at home.
Equally, it could be using any food or drink that helps you come back into the here and now.
Ultimately you’ll find the ways that work best for you, given your own ways of dissociating. There’s no right or wrong way, and you will have seen that dissociating is not wrong; it’s a skilful coping mechanism.
But if it’s getting in the way of you living life as you want, then trying these techniques out might be helpful.
You don’t have to face this alone. You can feel connected and alive again.
If you’ve experienced childhood emotional neglect or parental narcissistic abuse and you’d like help to be able to free yourself of the difficult feelings and dissociation, get in touch for a free initial consultation. I work face to face in Totnes and online via Skype.
A first person account of dissociation – if you want to read more
If you want more on dissociation, read James’ story here from Mind for an example of extreme dissociation.
The PODS charity also has great resources about dissociation and trauma: